Out of Darkness
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2ff)
In the beautiful passage above, read almost every year at Christmas, we hear that a people walking in darkness have seen a great light, and that great light is shining upon their land which is experiencing deep darkness. This is what Isaiah and the Jews were living through in their day: political power struggles, violence all around, and complete disregard for the sacredness of life. The “light” shining on them in their darkness was the hope given the people in the prophetic word inspired by God and transmitted by Isaiah himself.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.
Isaiah was inspired by God to give this prophecy in a time when God’s people needed hope. The Jews of Isaiah’s time needed to hear this message, and as it is read today to us, it is a word that we need to hear as well.
We have an advantage over the people of Isaiah’s day, however, because Christ has come among us already, his authority has grown and is growing as we speak. God is with us and God’s Kingdom is slowly taking hold on earth, while facing tremendous opposition from those who, for power, greed, fear and hatred, cause them to foster violence, vengeance, and war. Isaiah knew, as I hope we do, that death was completely foreign to God and a Son would come to show us the way to life.
What we celebrate at Christmas is that God is human. Walter Wink, a New Testament scholar and peace activist, gave a talk and said
God is human. The great error of humanity is to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentally human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would look like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness- which is to say, we are capable of becoming human. We are human “becoming” more than “being.”
The purpose of the Incarnation, God taking on our human flesh, is to show us how to be, really and truly, human. What we see in Aleppo, in the Christmas market in Germany, violence done to people in so many places in our world and behind closed doors, is less than human not worthy of our creation in God’s image and likeness. Trying to keep peace by killing all opposition is less than human. The Child, whose coming we celebrate today, will show us how to be human.
“In those days” Rome was the center of the world and the Emperor was called “Son of God.” The Census wasn’t just to keep good records and statistics, but was a way to exert power and control. Joseph had to register in Bethlehem, a tiny village, a true no-where land. This is where the Savior of the World was born: in a stable with animals, because there was no room in the Inn. The Messiah was the pushed out, excluded, ignored. No place in the great city of Rome, among his own in Israel, in Nazareth, in Bethelem at the Inn. Only the stable with the animals received him.
The only ones that took notice were shepherds. These guys weren’t like the pretty figures in our crèche scenes. The shepherds were socially outcast group, like a bunch of bikers rolling into town on their Harley’s. People barred their doors when the shepherds came near! But these shepherds were the ones who noticed something great happening in all of creation and paid attention even though they were terrified. The angel told these tough guys not to be afraid. These despised shepherds were the first recipients of the Good News!
The Child was wrapped in swaddling clothes like all the children were in that day. The swaddling clothes shaped the child physically. The culture that we are born into shapes us. It was no different for Jesus. He would be shaped by the culture of his day.
Jesus was place in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. Interestingly, like the two guys in Emmaus, we meet Jesus in a meal too!
So the Christmas message that’s getting through to me today is this: Let go of fear. Hold on to Hope. Know God is acting. Look for God especially where people are weak, excluded, ignored. Stand with them. Always remember God might be using the ones we are most afraid of to reveal Good News. God will use our culture to shape us and help us to become human. God is present where eating takes place. God is with us.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.